University of Bath represents the UK at submarine races

The University is fielding an enthusiastic team of students who have designed, built and hope to pilot their human-powered submarine ‘Minerva’ to victory in the inaugural European International Submarine Races (eISR), competing against teams from the USA and Canada.

The races will take place from 25 to 29 June in Europe’s largest freshwater tank - QinetiQ’s Ocean Basin in Gosport, England. This is the first time such races have taken place outside the USA, where the University of Bath has competed at a high level in recent years.

The Bath team consists of eight students, who have been working on their submarine throughout the final two years of their study at the University. The work has formed part of the students’ practical projects during their mechanical engineering degrees.

The 2011 submarine, named Minerva, will be launched on Friday 17 June.

Dr William Megill, Director of the Ocean Technologies Laboratory at the University of Bath, said: “The over-riding reason for the team to take part in this project was the opportunity to put the theoretical knowledge they have learnt through their studies into good practice.

“Seven of the team have studied Mechanical Engineering, and the eighth studied Aerospace Engineering. All have undertaken final year projects, or a Masters research project, that has prepared them well for key roles in the races.”

Team leader and project manager Oli Fairfax designed the new control system for the submarine during his final year project. Oli said: “The system I have designed comprises a waterproof electronic joystick, like the type you can use for computer gaming, with a new gearbox and motors at the stern of the submarine.

“I wanted a design and build project and thought that designing part of the human-powered submarine as part of a team would be both challenging and fun, with the reward of seeing the design work in a race in the summer.”

Dr Megill said: “When he says motors, Oli is referring only to the control system for placing the submarine in the water. The main propulsion power comes from the pilot’s legs, for these submarines are flooded, and pedal-powered underwater by a pilot wearing scuba diving gear. It’s very hard work!”

The submarine has been designed for three potential pilots, giving the team flexibility on the day in choosing the most suitable person to race ‘Minerva’.

Students from Mechanical Engineering test the submarine ahead of an international competition held in the States next week.

One of the possible pilots is Jenny Blowers, whose research project focused on the manoeuvrability of a robotic submarine that mimics an Amazonian knifefish. Jenny also project managed a group business and design project in 2011 as part of the Bath University Racing Submarine Team (BURST) group to produce an autonomous submarine, so she was keen to join the 2012 team to see a practical application to the design and engineering she had learned at university.

The European International Submarine Races has received support and sponsorship from a wide variety of organisations, making it possible for this inaugural event to take place.

The competition will be marked by a panel of distinguished judges headed by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Hill. The overall winner will be determined by a formula combining design, manufacture and performance on the racecourse.

The winning team will be presented with a spectacular engraved crystal sculpture depicting Alexander the Great being lowered into the Bosphorous in the world’s first submarine in 332BC. This sculpture was created for the races by cup Admiral Frank Grenier CB, formerly head of the Royal Navy submarine service and now an engraver of note.

In addition to the overall winner, awards will be presented for the ‘week’s top speed’, the ‘most manoeuvrable’, the ‘best presentation’ and an award sponsored by BMT Defence Services Ltd for Innovation.

For more information about the team and the races, please visit the European International Submarine Races website:


If you enjoyed this article you might also like:

Speaking to BBC Radio Bristol about the submarine races, June 2012

Ford Blue Oval scholarship programme, January 2012

New centre turbocharges Bath’s low carbon research, December 2011

Bookmark with:

What is this?

We are one of the UK's leading universities with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. Our Mission is to deliver world class research and teaching, educating our graduates to become future leaders and innovators, and benefiting the wider population through our research, enterprise and influence. Our courses are innovative and interdisciplinary and we have an outstanding record of graduate employment.